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Executive’s Response to the Recommendations
of the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Report into Child Poverty in Northern Ireland


Recommendations of the OFMDFM Committee’s
Inquiry to Child Poverty


Relevant Department(s)



1. We recommend that the Executive should, when defining, measuring and tackling child poverty, take account of the importance of ensuring that children and young people retain an expectation of achievement.


Child Poverty is a central concern of the Executive and its elimination, a key commitment within our Programme for Government.

In defining and measuring poverty/child poverty OFMDFM wish to be assured that whatever methodology is employed can be applied consistently, is consistent with acknowledged best practice, provides a sound evidence for future policy development and contributes to the Executives vision that children and young people can thrive and look forward to the future with confidence.

The Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People will also be considering issues which have the potential to significantly reduce poverty in the longer term such as higher educational achievement arising from higher aspirations and the provision of child care.

2. We support the decision by OFMDFM to adopt the 3-tiered approach to the measurement of child poverty used by the UK Government. In addition to measuring both absolute and relative low income, the Executive must ensure that material deprivation is also measured.

OFMDFM / Executive

It is important that we are able to retain a direct comparison with other European countries in how to measure poverty and we agree with the comments in the Committee’s report that material deprivation captures families’ living standards and provides an important additional method by which to consider child poverty.

In measuring progress in tackling child poverty both income and material poverty are measured. This will continue to be the case

3. We recommend that OFMDFM and the Executive carefully consider the extent and distribution of poverty, including rural poverty, across Northern Ireland when developing their approach to tackling child poverty and when planning new investments and services. The Committee also recognises the importance of identifying and tackling smaller areas of deprivation, which are often masked by more affluent surrounding districts. It is vital that the Executive’s strategies and plans are based on a robust assessment of objective need.

OFMDFM / Executive and all other Depts

The broad ‘architecture’ and principles of ‘Lifetime Opportunities’ the proposed strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion recognises the need to tackle poverty, social inclusion and patterns of deprivation, based on objective social need. This means identifying individuals, groups and areas (both urban and rural) in greatest need, by using a range of different indicators and ensuring services and resources are directed towards those in greatest objective need.

As part of the CSR settlement DARD received additional resources to tackle rural poverty. OFMDFM officials will work closely with all Departments, including DARD officials to ensure that programmes and actions across Departments are complimentary and address the key priorities in tackling poverty as part of the Executive’s PfG commitments.

The Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People will be considering the particular issues facing those in poverty in rural areas.

4. We commend the Executive for adopting its target to work towards the elimination of severe child poverty. However, if this is to represent a meaningful commitment and not an aspiration, the Executive must establish, in advance of reviewing the Programme for Government, a baseline and system of measurement for the new severe poverty target.

OFMDFM / Research

A baseline and system of measurement for severe child poverty is currently work in progress in conjunction with DSD. We are progressing this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure a robust baseline and system of measurement for this new target.


5. We recommend that OFMDFM should move quickly to adopt the Lifetime Opportunities Strategy as the framework for its work to tackle poverty and social exclusion. Critically, this will allow OFMDFM to focus on remedying some of the deficiencies within the Strategy through the development of a properly resourced medium-term action plan, which includes SMART intermediate objectives and targets capable of delivering the Executive’s child poverty targets.

OFMDFM / Depts

The broad architecture of the ‘Lifetime Opportunities’, launched in 2006 as a policy framework, including its overarching strategic targets and goals for each key stage in the lifecycle, remains relevant and appropriate. The view reflects that of the Shadow Programme for Government Committee which saw Lifetime Opportunities as a good basis for future policy and action.

OFMDFM are currently examining which appropriate actions will best achieve the agreed outcomes. The current global economic climate will inevitably have an impact on poverty levels and we will be taking this fully into account. We will also be considering the proposed actions in other UK regions and by the Irish Government.

The establishment of an Executive Sub-Committee will enable priorities to be agreed and a cross-departmental action plan developed with smart targets in the medium term to make the greatest positive difference in the lives of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion.

The reconvening of the Ministerially led Poverty and Social Inclusion Stakeholder Forum will also be an integral part of the process of engaging stakeholders and monitoring progress.

6. Following extensive deliberations, and taking particular account of the fact that the target to reduce child poverty by 50% by 2010 is a UK-wide target, the Committee has decided, on balance, to support the retention of the current target and to recommend that it be reviewed following publication of the 2006/2007 data later this year


The current targets are challenging particularly in the current economic conditions. We will continue to keep the targets under review and update the committee of any new developments.

7. We accept that the Executive’s Anti-Poverty Strategy will have a critical role in filling many of the gaps in the current policy framework, but remain of the view that the Programme for Government and related PSAs need to be significantly strengthened if they are to ensure that resources and actions are effectively directed by departments towards the elimination of child poverty. As an immediate step, the Committee recommends that the First Minister and deputy First Minister:


  • Establish target dates for the adoption of the Lifetime Opportunities Strategy and for the publication of a 3-5 year regional anti-poverty and social exclusion implementation plan, which should include the supporting objectives, targets and programmes for the delivery of the PSA targets to eliminate child poverty and severe child poverty.


The Executive Committee considered and agreed a paper proposing the adoption of the broad architecture of Lifetime Opportunities including the life cycle approach. The Executive Committee also agreed the creation of a dedicated Ministerial Sub-Committee on Anti-Poverty which will oversee and drive forward the key priorities, objectives and targets to be delivered in order to meet PSA targets in respect of child poverty and severe child poverty.

  • Re-establish the Ministerially led Poverty and Social Inclusion Stakeholder Forum.


This forum has an important role in the further development and monitoring of targets within the strategy and it is be re-established without delay.

  • Establish a target date for the adoption of a regional Children and Young People’s Action Plan.


The Children and Young People’s Action Plan is currently being developed with input from all departments. It was discussed at the Children’s Champions meeting on Tuesday 5 th August and we are currently awaiting responses from a number of departments on individual queries. It was also considered at the first meeting of the Strategy, Planning and Review Group on 10 th September. We are currently receiving submissions and comments on the draft action plan from members of that group. We will revise this paper and also incorporate the relevant aspects of the UNCRC observations and circulate the plan for further consultation and discussion.

We will also send the draft copy of the action plan to the OFMDFM Committee for immediate consideration.

The adoption of the children and young people’s action plan will outline the work being taken forward across government to improve the lives of all children and young people and deliver on the aims of the 10 Year Strategy. It will not seek to duplicate or replicate those actions being taken forward under the auspice of other, individually focused strategies. It will therefore not include specific actions to address child poverty but will draw attention to the anti-poverty strategy ‘Lifetime Opportunities’ and the actions being taken forward under this to reduce child poverty and deliver improved outcomes in the area ‘Economic and Environmental Well-Being.’

It is planned that the Action Plan will be agreed and adopted in the first quarter of 2009.

8. We recommend that that during the first review of the Programme for Government specific targets should be included in relation to:

  • the level of additional investment across government in early years services over the Budget period;

OFMDFM / All Depts

The first review of the PfG will provide the Executive with an opportunity to refine the PfG in light of the EQIA consultation carried out at a strategic level, the experience of delivery and the need to respond to new developments. The process will also facilitate the identification of any issues at the margins which need to be considered by the Executive to ensure the PfG remains relevant and up-to-date.

However, the issue of early years provision is an important issue for the Executive. You will note that a PSA target appears in the Programme for Government which states, “Deliver a new early years strategy which will bring early years care and education together in a co-ordinated way, to support the integration of service delivery. “ In line with the Committee’s recommendation, the Executive will give consideration to the inclusion of targets relating to investment in early years across the budget period as part of the review process.

  • the number of high quality affordable childcare places to be created during this Programme for Government, including the % of such places that are to be created in areas of deprivation;


The development of a childcare strategy with targets for the creation of affordable places particularly in deprived areas is a critical factor in addressing child poverty and will impact on the employment of lone parents and second earner families. However before targets can be developed overall responsibility and resources to develop a strategy need to be identified. This work will be taken forward by the Ministerial Sub-Group on Children.

  • a timeframe for implementation of recommendations arising from the taskforce established by the Minister for Social Development to reduce the impact of rising fuel costs on families on low income;


The recommendations of the Fuel Poverty Task Force established by the Minister for Social Development have been circulated for consideration. The Executive will be considering the recommendations as part of the wider discussion on the economic crisis.

  • the establishment of a pilot project in Northern Ireland which will reassure long term recipients of benefits that if they enter full-time work they will have an in work income better than they receive from their out of work benefits;


DEL is supportive of the view that there is a need for long term benefit recipients to have a better understanding that they are likely to be financially better off in work than on benefit. This in turn supports the proposition that the most effective route out of poverty is through work.

For this reason, the Department already provides benefit recipients with a service which calculates (approximately) their income if they were in a particular job. In most cases, this demonstrates that recipients would be better off. This service is available in all 35 Jobs and Benefits Offices and JobCentres.

In addition, participants in the Pathways to Work programme may be eligible for an additional £40 per week if they enter employment and are earning less than £15,000 per annum. A similar payment has been piloted for Lone Parents and consideration is being given to extending this pilot. DEL expects Personal Advisers to do at least one better off calculation with clients during the course of their series of Work Focussed Interviews.

Specifically in relation to the proposal for the establishment of a “better off “pilot, DEL is watching developments in Britain with interest. A "Better off in Work Credit" pilot scheme will operate in all Jobcentres throughout Yorkshire and the Humber Region from October 2008, and guarantee that individuals will be at least £25 per week better off in work than on benefit. Given that the GB pilot will provide a large scale test of this concept, a smaller pilot in NI would seem to be an unnecessary duplication of effort.

DEL proposes to keep this matter under review and await the outcome of the GB pilot prior to considering the way ahead. Initial thoughts are that £25 per week is insufficient incentive to make a significant difference to individuals. There are numerous examples where DEL “better off” calculations have demonstrated that clients are £100 to £150 a week better off and it is this level of differential that really concentrates the mind.

In summary, I would highlight our current "better off" calculations, and that we will await the outcome of the pilot.

  • the completion of a review, involving other relevant departments, to consider the issues addressed by the package for disabled children’s services in England, in relation to the provision of short breaks, accessible childcare, transition support and parents’ fora;


The Chief Nursing Officer secured £2m, £3m and £4m respectively in CSR for children with complex needs and this sum includes the provision of respite (short breaks). People with (physical and sensory disability) (including children were allocated £0.5m, £1m and £5m in CSR for respite. £7m, £9m and £17m was allocated for the learning disabled and some of this money will be used to provide respite. Whilst the monies for the learning disabled and physically disabled are not exclusively for children, these figures represent a significant increase in respite provision and will undoubtedly improve the circumstances for many children and their carers. 150 additional day care places were also created in 2006-2007 under the Children and Young People’s Funding Package. Some element of the respite provision indicated above in CSR will also contribute toward the children in transition, as daycare opportunities are a form of respite for families.

There has been a great deal of policy work to establish the needs of children with a disability. This includes the Bamford Review, The Autism Review, the Wheelchair Review and the Review of Speech and Language Therapy. In these regards the package for disabled children’s services in England may provide a comparative analysis but many areas of need have already been identified in NI. Disability Action (and other charities) highlighted the fact that none of the £300m associated with that package found its way to disabled children in NI.

The capitation share came to the Executive and was not specifically allocated to children with a disability. Had this money been allocated for children with a disability in NI, priorities would have been identified which would bear comparison with those in the package delivered in England.

The Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People are currently examining the issue of Transition with a view to bringing forward recommendations. We shall consult with the Committee on the recommendations.

  • the development of a cross-departmental Benefit Uptake Strategy.


There is already considerable contact and cooperation between departments in this area. Given the cross-departmental nature of the action recommended here a view on the way forward on this suggestion might best be taken at Executive level and the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People might be an appropriate forum in which to consider the issue, particularly given the remit of its sub-group considering “a holistic and comprehensive approach to child poverty”.

DSD and the Social Security Agency would welcome such an approach which might further enhance and build on existing benefit uptake efforts

9. We recommend that OFMDFM should insist on the inclusion within Programme for Government Delivery Agreements of a short-list of the changes to be introduced by each department to contribute to the objective of a shared and better future and that this should include measures which contribute to the reduction in levels of child poverty.


This recommendation will be taken forward as part of the next commissioning exercise for PSA Delivery Agreements.

10. We wish to encourage the Committee for Social Development to carefully monitor the delivery of the commitment in the Investment Strategy to deliver 10,000 new social and affordable houses by 2013.

Committee for DSD

This is a recommendation for action by the Committee for Social Development rather than the department.

11. We consider the development of improved spatial information to be key to the Investment Strategy’s contribution to tackling weaknesses in infrastructure and to the Strategy’s capacity to take account of objective need. The Committee will therefore expect to receive an update on the progress made by the Strategic Investment Board, and departments, to develop such information within Investment Delivery Plans, during evidence sessions to follow-up the Committee’s report on the Programme for Government and Investment Strategy.


19 of the 23 Investment Delivery Plans have now been published, and the remaining four (DHSSPS x 3, DE x 1) will be published in due course.

12. We recognise the particular role of the Committee for Finance and Personnel in monitoring compliance with the guidance on the role of procurement in contributing to the socio-economic and sustainability objectives of the Executive and recommend that all statutory committees examine their department’s compliance with the guidance when scrutinising Investment Delivery Plans.


The guidance referred to is "Equality of Opportunity and Sustainable Development in Public Sector Procurement" which was issued under cover of DAO (DFP) 05/08 on 29 May 2008. The guidance sets out how equality and sustainable development considerations may be integrated by Departments into the public procurement process and Central Procurement Directorate will be reporting under PSA 11.4 on compliance with the guidance. All Departments w ill produce annual procurement plans, in accordance with PSA 21, setting out how procurement will assist in the delivery of the most economically advantageous outcomes, including specific measures to assist in the delivery of PfG commitments and the full consideration of social procurement guidelines.

This specific recommendation is a matter for all Statutory Committees as it is important that procurement is approached with an equality perspective and there is potential for procuring authorities to contribute to better equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland.

13. The Executive must quickly distance itself from the approach of direct rule Ministers to the production of ambitious strategy documents which are then supported by unambitious action plans, which act more as a statement of existing departmental action than as a real plan for change. The Lifetime Opportunities implementation plan must focus on identifying the intermediate, 3-year outcomes that need to be achieved to deliver each of the long-term poverty reduction and social exclusion targets, detail the additional or changed outputs that are planned to achieve such outcomes, explain the timeframe for delivery and how the outputs are to be resourced.


Tackling child poverty requires a commitment and prioritization right across government and the adoption of an Anti-Poverty Strategy is the starting point.

The establishment of an Executive Sub Committee on Poverty will be the forum to agree the cross-departmental actions, targets and resources that are required to deliver poverty reduction.

The OFMDFM Committee will have full consideration of all proposed strategies and resulting action plans.

14. We call on OFMDFM to ensure that the inclusion of narrative and descriptions of existing departmental activity is minimised within Implementation Plans supporting the Lifetime Opportunities Strategy.


It is important to recognise existing programmes which are working well and where and how these can be built upon. Detailed descriptions of these programmes within implementation plans should always be proportionate.

15. We welcome the recognition of tackling poverty and disadvantage within the public expenditure planning process and ask OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel to ensure that this remains a feature in future Budget rounds.


DFP - Departments are required to identify and consider the anti-poverty implications of the spending proposals they put forward as part of the Budget and In-Year Monitoring processes.

Following publication of Budget 2008-11 document in January 2008, the Executive has agreed that there should be a review of how the Budget process was taken forward in order to identify where improvements could be made. Additionally it was agreed that the outcome of the EQIA process on PfG, Budget and ISNI would inform future Monitoring Rounds and Budget considerations. The integration of anti-poverty considerations within the Budget process is one of the areas that will be considered as part of this Review.

16. We welcome the proposal to establish a sub-group of the Executive to identify the key actions that are required to deliver on the commitments in the Lifetime Opportunities Strategy. However, it is likely that this process will take some months and the Committee remains of the view that OFMDFM should have a role in challenging departmental Delivery Agreements to ensure the relevance and robustness of departmental targets and actions designed to contribute to the cross-cutting theme of a shared and better future.

Sub-group of the Executive / OFMDFM

OFMDFM should have a challenge role in respect of departmental delivery agreements linked to strategies such as Lifetime Opportunities and the strategy for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. OFMDFM will ensure that departmental Delivery Agreements are relevant and robust in terms of targets and actions which contribute to these strategies.

17. We recommend that OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel should consider, following consultation with this Committee and the Committee for Finance and Personnel, the introduction of a system of financial incentives and penalties in relation to the delivery of cross-departmental priorities, such as child poverty.


A range of incentives and sanctions are being considered in the development of the performance management framework to ensure maximum delivery against all the commitments set out in the Programme for Government, over the next three years and beyond.

18. We recommend that, in addition to the introduction of new performance management arrangements for the Programme for Government and the Lifetime Opportunities Strategy, OFMDFM should establish an independent panel of experts to report to the First Minister and deputy First Minister on the impact of the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy and associated delivery plans, on families in poverty or at risk of poverty.


You will be aware that there are PSA targets in the Programme for Government to adopt a strategy to tackle poverty, social exclusion and patterns of deprivation based on objective need, and to work towards the elimination of child poverty.

These targets will be monitored, along with the other targets, goals and commitments in the PfG, through the PfG delivery framework. The impact of the PfG, Budget and Investment Strategy on families in poverty will also be measured through the monitoring exercise on the Equality Impact Assessment which has been carried out at a strategic level on these three documents.

OFMDFM is content that this monitoring framework will provide a robust and effective basis for monitoring the impact of these documents on families in poverty. However, OFMDFM does not rule out the idea of an independent panel in the future, and will give it due consideration. We will continue to keep this matter under review.

19. We wish to encourage other statutory committees, as part of their work to scrutinise the Programme for Government, Budget and Investment Strategy, to challenge departments to identify the principal measures being introduced to reduce poverty and to set out how these measures are being resourced.

other statutory committees

Statutory Committees have a role with regard to scrutinizing the work of their specific departments and we would endorse the OFMDFM Committee’s line highlighting matters of poverty and social exclusion in the course of discharging Committee’s functions. Now that the anti-poverty strategy is adopted by the Executive it is an agreed Government policy. Each department will have an obligation to consider and work under its remit, and their relevant statutory committee will have the role of monitoring progress.

20. We wish to encourage leaders within local government, OFMDFM and the Department of the Environment to take account of the potential role of local government in tackling child poverty when developing new systems for community planning and during the development of agreements on funding and priorities between central and local government.

leaders within local government / OFMDFM / DOE

We acknowledge the enhanced role that local government will be able to play in tackling Child Poverty when greater powers are transferred to the local councils by 2011. We would encourage all local councils to fully embrace the opportunity that this provides for them to play a full role in tackling child poverty. The Policy Development Panels, which have been set up to develop policies in all aspects of the powers to be transferred to local government including community planning and neighbourhood renewal functions, will provide a vehicle for the issue of local government’s role in tackling Child Poverty to be raised when developing new systems for community planning and during the development of agreements on funding and priorities between central and local government.


21. We recommend that, following a review of initial benefit uptake programmes, consideration should be given by the Department for Social Development to the establishment of longer-term benefit uptake contracts and the adoption of alternative methods to try to contact hard to reach families living in poverty.


A strategic review of the Social Security Agency’s Benefit Uptake Programme is being taken forward by independent consultants, KPMG. The review will evaluate the customer groups targeted, the meth ods used including length of contract and the results achieved to date from previous programmes, along with making recommendations for future initiatives to be taken forward by the Agency. The results of the review will be available in December 2008 to allow for planning of future activities.

22. We recommend that the Department for Social Development brings forward legislative proposals which would enable information to be shared with other government agencies to enable more effective approaches to be developed to encourage benefit uptake.


Responses to Rec’s 22 and 23

Parity principle

Improving the quality of the service provided to customers is a priority for the Social Security Agency but there are certain constraints on its capacity to effect significant change in processes and systems. Under the Parity Principle, which seeks to maintain a single system of social security, pensions and child support for the UK, the Social Security Agency is restricted in making changes to simplify assessment processes and reduce the complexity of current systems. As such, unilateral action of the nature suggested in the recommendation would run counter to parity however the Social Security Agency has carried out research on the barriers to benefit uptake and has sought to counter them through the day to day services provided to customers for example, though the provision of outreach services, through participation in local promotional activity, by simplifying benefit claim forms in line with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and by making improvements to internet and e-services access.

DSD and the Social Security Agency will continue to make customer service a priority, will represent the views of the committee in its dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions and is undertaking research aimed at further enhancing the important work already underway to encourage benefit uptake.

Cross-departmental Benefit Uptake Strategy

There is already considerable contact and cooperation between departments in this area. Given the cross-departmental nature of the action recommended here a view on the way forward on this suggestion might best be taken at Executive level and the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People might be an appropriate forum in which to consider the issue, particularly given the remit of its sub-group considering “a holistic and comprehensive approach to child poverty”.

DSD and the Social Security Agency would welcome such an approach which might further enhance and build on existing benefit uptake efforts


There is already considerable communication and cooperation between departments and agencies on this issue. The principal barrier to the type of data-sharing envisaged in the recommendation is not bureaucratic but lies in the provisions of the Data Protection Act (the DPA). On that basis the information held by the Social Security Agency can only be shared if there is an explicit and specific legislative power to allow another agency access to it or if the person to whom the information refers gives consent for the release. There are already in place examples of both approaches.

The potential for DSD to take a legislative power that would allow for the sharing of the information held by the Social Security Agency was explored in the past. At that time the advice received was that such a broad power was likely to conflict with the provisions of the DPA. On that basis the current approach to data-sharing is regarded as the most sustainable. This is an issue that might merit further exploration as part of the discussion around the cross-department benefit uptake strategy and DSD and the Social Security Agency would welcome the opportunity to become involved in any such review.

23. We recommend that, as a first major initiative in seeking to eliminate severe poverty, the Executive should commit to the development of a cross-departmental Benefit Uptake Strategy.

Executive / DSD

see response to 22

24. We consider that, given the similar challenges faced in seeking to reduce child poverty, the Executive should seek to ensure that policy on poverty reduction continues to be a matter for co-operation and information sharing on both a North/South and East/West basis.

Executive / OFMDFM

There are already several fora through which officials share information with other regions in relation to poverty and social inclusion issues. The Ministerial meeting of the British Irish Council (BIC) Social Inclusion strand met in May to sign off the latest work on child Poverty with a focus on Lone Parents. The new strand of work on the role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in Social Inclusion commences in September with OFMDFM and DSD jointly representing Northern Ireland. OFMDFM officials are also members of the 4 Nations Child Poverty Forum which was convened to ‘maximise joint working across reserved and devolved administrations’.

The Joint Ministerial Committee on Poverty is still in existence and remains a potential vehicle for joint working at Ministerial level. We continue to work on a North/South and East/West basis in order to share appropriate research, experience, best practice and develop demonstration projects.

25. The Committee calls on Ministers to lobby the UK Government for the reopening of an office dealing with tax credits in Northern Ireland and for improvements to verification procedures and the administration of the tax credit system.


Treasury has recently developed a strategy for improving the working of the tax credit system making it easier for customers both to understand and access information. Some of these reforms have already been introduced and others are more long term and will be based on feedback from consultation.

As for benefit entitlement DSD would support any initiative that improves access of citizens to tax credits that are their legal right. Undoubtedly tax credits make an important contribution to the income of working people who have to operate within a tight budget. The DSD Minister suggests however that this is a matter that should be pursued by DFP in the first instance as they have a more direct relationship with the Treasury. The DSD Minister would, as part of the Executive, be willing to actively support such an approach.


26. The impact of fuel bills that are quite literally rising by the week is so significant that we believe OFMDFM, and indeed the wider Executive, must develop a specific plan of action to deal with the issue of rising costs for people on low income.

OFMDFM and Executive

The DSD Minister has recently forwarded a Draft Cross Departmental Strategy for Executive approval

The proposed Ministerial Sub-Committee on Anti-Poverty would be an appropriate mechanism to continue this work and to monitor progress against the agreed actions.

27. We urge the Minister for Social Development to ensure that the Fuel Poverty Taskforce considers all practical options, including options for additional payments or special tariffs for vulnerable groups. The Committee believes that in the current climate all options must be considered.


Responses to Rec’s. 27 and 28

The Minister for Social Development established the Fuel Poverty Taskforce in May 2008 with the following broad remit:

  • To identify those households that will suffer most from the fuel price increases so that they can be targeted for direct help.
  • To co-ordinate available funding across a range of Government Departments (in addition to ‘Warm Homes’) so that it has maximum impact on fuel poverty.
  • To work with the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment, Industry Regulator and Consumer Council to ensure that the privately-owned energy companies are doing everything they can to counter fuel poverty.”

As such, the ambit of the Fuel Poverty Taskforce is sufficiently wide to allow it to consider the issues raised in these recommendations.

28. The Fuel Poverty Taskforce should consider how, in addition to potential investments by the public sector to increase levels of energy efficiency, the private sector, including the regulated utilities and major fuel companies, could more effectively contribute to minimising fuel costs for people on low income. The powers of the regulator to incentivise and enforce such an approach should also be considered. At a more local level, policies relating to the fuel choices of low income families may need to be reviewed and serious consideration should be given to how people on low income could be assisted to minimise costs though the creation of cooperatives, thereby enabling the bulk buying of fuel at a reduced price.


See Response to 27

29. We recommend that the Executive prioritises the issue of high fuel costs during monitoring rounds and looks creatively at other options that could be used to finance the recommendations that emerge from the Fuel Poverty Taskforce.


The Executive’s agreed priorities, for the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, are detailed in the Programme for Government document which was published in January 2008.

Spending proposals put forward by departments, in response to high fuel costs, will be considered by the Executive as part of the in-year monitoring process against competing priorities, and in the context of available resources.

30. The Committee asks the relevant departments and committees with responsibility for rates and water charges to ensure that, in developing measures to protect people on low income from further hardship, proper account is taken of the reduced incomes available to many vulnerable groups.


DFP (RATES) - The domestic rating reforms, including the change to a system based on individual capital values, were introduced in April 2007 by direct rule Ministers. This change was subject to an Executive Review which led to a package of measures aimed at making the system more acceptable and allaying some of the fears that that been expressed about its impact on ratepayers on low or fixed incomes, including (though not confined to) those living in high value properties.


While no specific assessment was carried out in relation to the impact of the domestic rating reforms on child poverty, the new system was deemed to have a more positive impact on those in greatest objective need, than either the previous NAV system or a banded one. In addition, an impact assessment suggested that the reforms would have a more positive impact for those families with dependents compared to those without. It also indicated that those aged 16-59 would benefit more compared to those aged 60 or over.

As part of the policy development process a range of steps were taken to minimise the impact of the new system on those in poverty. This included the introduction of a means tested rate relief scheme at the same time as the move to rating on the basis of individual capital values. This scheme aims to provide further assistance to those in receipt of partial housing benefit or those just outside the housing benefit thresholds.

Perhaps more specifically related to the issue of child poverty, the package of reforms introduced in April 2007 also included a further mitigating measure namely the rate exemption for people in full-time education and training, those under 18 years old and young people leaving care. Full relief from rates is provided where all the occupants in a property fall into any one of these categories. This measure was seen as a part of a wider Government Strategy for Children and Young People and was aimed at reducing household costs for these groups. As a result of the Executive review of domestic rating this scheme is to be reviewed and this work is currently being undertaken for the Department by FGS McClure Watters.

Although much of the focus of the Executive review has been on assisting elderly ratepayers, in terms of enhanced rate relief and a lone pensioner allowance, a number of measures will also help support low income families at a general level. This includes proposals to improve the take up of rating reliefs and securing enhanced data sharing powers to enable better targeting of the various rating reliefs, helping people on low incomes to receive the assistance to which they are entitled. Proposals to enhance data sharing powers are currently subject to consultation, due to end on 19 September 2008.

As a first step to addressing the problem of low take of reliefs, estimated to be around 40% in the owner occupied sector, an independent study was commissioned to identify actions that could support Government awareness and take up strategies. While the focus was originally on rate relief it inevitably considered housing benefit (which includes what is often referred to as rate rebate) and its findings will undoubtedly have relevance to other support measures.

The Access to Benefits report made a number of recommendations and suggested that one important way to inform people about their likely eligibility to reliefs would be for improved data sharing between the relevant Government agencies, and to use this information to better target advice towards those most likely to qualify for the various rate reliefs. It was felt that this would also make verification of information provided by claimants easier. The way forward is currently being considered by the Finance Minister. Any decisions taken may be of interest in relation to assistance with future water and sewerage charges. This would be particularly the case if the decision were taken to use the rate relief scheme as a passport to assistance with water and sewerage charges.

It is worth noting that proposed reforms, such as the rating of empty homes which is due to be introduced from April 2010, may also generate extra revenue which could, in the long term be considered for use to provide further relief to vulnerable groups. An opportunity to provide further assistance to such groups is something that will be kept under review by the Executive.

Finally, action has also been taken to freeze the domestic regional rate over the Comprehensive Spending Review period which, alongside the outcomes of the Executive Review referred to above, will be of benefit to and have a real impact on many households in Northern Ireland.

DRD (Water) -The Executive has not yet decided on a methodology by which domestic customers will make payments for water and sewerage services. As soon as they do so proposals for the way forward will be issued for consultation. The issue of an affordability tariff for low income households will be considered in detail as part of the overall payment methodology and proposals will be included in the public consultation.

31. We recommend that within the Lifetime Opportunities Implementation Plan a new objective should be included to seek to minimise the impact of rising costs on low income households. As part of this objective, specific consideration should be given to the development of measures that minimise the cost to families on low income of government services. The principles of free education and free health care at the point

of delivery must be at the heart of proposals to minimise the cost of services to families on low income.


While most health and social care services are free, prescriptions, dental examinations and treatment and ophthalmic services can still attract a charge. However all children under 18 (and under 19, if they are still in full time education) get free dental treatment; children aged under 16 and 16-18 in full time education may obtain free prescriptions, free sight tests and an optical voucher towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses. Those on low income and in receipt of income support and certain other benefits can obtain free or reduced cost services.

Anyone not paying for their HS prescription, HS dental treatment or optical costs should show their GP, pharmacist, dentist or optician proof of why they do not have to pay, such as a notice of entitlement, birth certificate or exemption certificate. Without such proof treatment will still be free but entitlement will still be checked later by Central Services Agency. The recent announcement on the future of prescription charges will have a positive impact in this area.

Schools uniforms are not the subject of legislation. Therefore, responsibility for determining uniform policies lies with the management of each school. However, the Department of Education recognises the impact of the rising cost of uniforms and provides a contribution to the cost for families on low incomes or benefits. The Department is also in the process of developing guidance for schools with regard to their uniform policies. That guidance will include a statement that schools' boards of governors should consider the impact of their uniform policies, particularly the rising cost of uniforms, on those with low incomes to ensure that they do not bear undue hardship.

School meals are provided free to pupils from low-income backgrounds. For other pupils, Boards endeavour to restrict the cost of meals, and any annual increase, to a minimum. However, meals are subject to price increases in foodstuffs, etc that often lie beyond their control.

Unlike assistance with uniforms and the provision of free school meals, school transport is not provided at present on a means-tested basis. However, once the post-Primary landscape has been determined, the Department intends to conduct a review of school transport and this will take into account how best to address the transport for families on low incomes - particularly those living in rural areas.

The Committee's recommendations overlap significantly with what the Department is already doing in the areas of uniforms, meals and transport. Therefore, we would agree that those recommendations will help to address the problems faced by low income families and address child poverty issues directly.

32. We welcome the recognition by OFMDFM of the role of financial inclusion in tackling poverty and would wish to see this reflected in the Lifetime Opportunities Implementation Plan. We are aware that the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has launched an inquiry on credit unions and recommend that the Committee investigates whether the direct engagement of credit unions, in the manner employed by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service in the Republic of Ireland, would help to improve the impact of the debt advice service in Northern Ireland.


The First Minister and deputy First Minister note that the ETI Committee are currently undertaking an Inquiry into Credit Unions in NI and that the Recommendation at page 55, para 236, has been passed to them for consideration as part of their work.   DETI have also given evidence to the Committee and will provide a formal response to the Committee's final Report.

OFMDFM is, together with other departments, actively engaged with the General Consumer Council, the FSA and Banks and Credit Unions in the NI Financial Capability Partnership. Consideration is being given to ‘gaps’ in financial advice currently available and what action is necessary to alleviate problem debt.

33. We recommend that the Consumer Council be asked to work with NIHE, the Department for Social Development and insurance companies to investigate low-cost house insurance options, which take account of the levels of home contents insurance required by families on low income.


The issue of financial inclusion is an important aspect of the strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion and as such should not be approached piecemeal. The role that government departments, including the Department of Social Development, might play in taking forward any such proposals should be considered in the context of the broader anti-poverty strategy which is lead by OFMDFM. The Executive welcomes the work being undertaken by the Consumer Council and will be happy to consider any recommendations that work might contain. That consideration would include, where appropriate, how best the Executive might respond to those recommendations and which parts of government might be best placed to play a role in that response.

The Department has spoken to the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland (GCCNI) who was already aware of this recommendation. GCCNI are entirely content with it and how it fits into their existing plan of work. In terms of working towards this recommendation, the GCCNI are undertaking research to determine if consumers are getting a raw deal on insurance in relation to cost, barriers and risk. As part of this programme of work, the GCCNI plan to work with a range of stakeholders, including NIHE and DSD, to ensure that insurance products design and distribution meet the needs of consumers.


34. We call on OFMDFM to initiate a review, involving other relevant departments, to consider the issues addressed by the package for disabled children’s services in England in relation to the provision of short breaks, accessible childcare, transition support and parents’ fora and, based on the outcome of the review, to make recommendations to the Executive on the development of a resourced programme of action to deliver equivalent improvements in Northern Ireland.


See response to Recommendation 8.6

Initiatives such as Every Disabled Child Matters are not ring-fenced by Treasury therefore monies allocated on the basis of consequentials form part of the Block Grant.

OFMDFM will keep this matter under consideration.

It is expected that in taking forward proposals for the implementation of an overarching Anti-Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy that the Executive will give due consideration to gaps in service provision for all target groups including disabled children.

35. We call on OFMDFM, as a matter of priority, to resolve the dispute between the Department of Education and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety over school aged childcare by assigning lead responsibility for childcare policy to the most appropriate department.


The Health Minister has agreed to continue to fund the after school projects previously supported by the Children and Young People’s Funding Package until December 2008. Although this is only a short term intervention, Junior Ministers are continuing to liaise with Ministerial colleagues on the issue in a bid to identify a longer term solution.

The Ministerial Sub-Committee has identified 6 priorities with one relating to child poverty. The issue of affordable childcare is one which the sub group established to take forward work on this priority will consider. The relevant Sub-Committee Group will also consider where departmental responsibility for childcare should most appropriately lie. We consider this to me an urgent issue requiring early resolution.

36. We call on Executive Ministers to ensure that before introducing welfare reform programmes which have been developed in other parts of the UK, careful consideration is given to their implementation in Northern Ireland, and, in particular, we recommend that an evaluation is carried out of whether necessary support services, such as childcare, are in place prior to their implementation.


In implementing welfare reform programmes DSD has given, and will continue to give, due consideration to the availability of support services including childcare provision in Northern Ireland.

37. We recommend that the Executive should set a date for the development of a long-term, properly resourced Childcare Strategy and take immediate action to resolve the funding crisis for school aged childcare. The Committee recommends that the Strategy should include specific targets to:

  • increase the level of good quality, affordable childcare in areas of disadvantage;


The issue of affordable childcare is one which the sub group established under the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People to take forward work on this priority will consider. It is hoped that the recommendations will inform an Executive Childcare Strategy.

  • improve the level of appropriate, affordable childcare provision for children with a disability;

See above

  • improve access to affordable childcare in rural areas;

DARD / Executive

In July 2007 the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development established a stakeholder group to examine the specific childcare issues facing rural communities. This group reported in April 2008 and recommended, inter alia, that DARD develops a specific programme to help address childcare needs in rural areas. The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development has agreed to this recommendation and a programme is currently being developed with a view to opening for application in Spring 2009. The Minister is also progressing the remaining, non-DARD, recommendations through the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People.

  • reduce the length of time that it takes to become registered as a childminder;


DHSSPS is working with the DE to review childcare registration and provision.

  • reverse the decline in registered childminders that is being experienced in some parts of Northern Ireland;


See above

  • enhance the training and development of staff working in early years settings.


Both the Early Years Strategy and the work of Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) will be examining the landscape of the early years workforce including qualifications and training needs.

38. We recommend that consideration be given to introducing a statutory duty to require sufficient childcare provision to meet the needs of the community in general and in particular those families on lower incomes and those with disabled children.


The legislation in place in England places a statutory duty on local authorities to provide childcare places - given the current responsibilities of local councils this would not be feasible until greater powers are transferred to local councils (see Recommendation 20).

In the meantime the Executive Sub-Committee on Children will consider this issue as part of its work.

39. We recommend that specific targets for improving childcare provision in rural areas be included in the Childcare Strategy.


The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will have a rural childcare programme as part of the DARD Anti Poverty/Social Inclusion framework. Targets will be set for this programme that could also form part of an overarching Childcare strategy. However, as the report states, there must be a cross cutting approach to rural poverty and as such other government departments much recognise their responsibilities for rural childcare and provide their support for the inclusion of specific targets for improving childcare provision in rural areas in the Childcare Strategy.

This issue is best brought forward and considered by the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People.

40. We recommend that making work pay should be a specific objective within the Lifetime Opportunities Implementation Plan and that the Department for Social Development, with the support of OFMDFM, should work with departments in the UK on the development of a pilot “Better off in Work” initiative in Northern Ireland.


See comments in recommendation 8.5


41. The Committee considers that more attention needs to be paid to identifying and targeting the population groups at most risk of poor educational or health outcomes with specific, evidence-based strategies that will deliver real improvements for such groups.


‘Promoting Social Inclusion’ ( PSI) has played an important part of the policy for tackling poverty and social exclusion since 1998. It has been retained within ‘Lifetime Opportunities.

PSI involves Departments working together and with partners outside Government to improve and enhance the circumstances of those at risk of social exclusion, by identifying and tackling factors that could contribute to social exclusion and which would be best dealt with in a co-ordinated way. It also involves consideration of positive initiatives to facilitate and encourage social inclusion.

A number of inter-departmental PSI Working Groups have developed strategies to promote social inclusion for a range of vulnerable groups. These include:

      • older people;
      • carers;
      • homelessness;
      • pregnant teenagers;
      • people with problems of mental health (part of the Bamford Review);
      • disability (work ongoing);
      • travellers; and
      • minority ethnic groups.

Current research has indicated that lone parent families are more at risk of being in poverty than any other household type here. In recognition of this the current PSI priority is aimed at tackling poverty and social exclusion experienced by lone parent families. Additionally we will want to consider the issue of multi-identity e.g. lone parents with disabilities or older people with mental health considerations Recommendations of this report are currently with Ministers and are expected to make a contribution to the child poverty targets.

Lifetime Opportunities will become the vehicle for research findings and to translate objectives into action.

42. It is crucial that the Early Years Strategy being led by the Department for Education is properly resourced and is quickly followed by an implementation plan containing SMART targets. We recommend that the Early Years Strategy should include specific targets on:

  • the level of additional investment across government in early years services over the Budget period;


The Early Years 0–6 Strategy will not explicitly highlight targets in relation to these three points. The purpose of the Strategy is to enable Government to build an integrated policy platform from which to deliver services to very young children and their families and to do so in a joined-up way with the child at the centre of services, rather than the institutions. While DE is forming the 0-6 Strategy, early intervention clearly will involve other government departments and this is reflected in the composition of the interdepartmental project board overseeing the development of the Early Years Strategy. The purpose of the strategy is stated in the terms of reference, which are to:

  • Set out a clear vision for early years policy;
  • Be consistent with national and international frameworks for policy on early years;
  • Establish evidence based policy drawing on research and good practice elsewhere;
  • Identify suitable structures for service delivery and inter-agency co-operation which are consistent with the Review of Public Administration;
  • Examine inter-relationships between early years and wider childcare and education reform, including Sure Start, Extended Schools and Children’s Centres;
  • Examine appropriate funding mechanisms including the simplification of funding streams;
  • Identify outcomes based on quality service delivery; and
  • Take into account access for providers, parents and vulnerable members of society (including children with Special Educational Needs, ethnic minorities, rural issues and travellers).

In setting a vision for early years’ policy the Strategy will set the scene for how early years services should be delivered in the next 10 years, and will recognise that meaningful and sustained change will take time. The Strategy will ensure that our energies and resources are wisely and coherently applied and funding is more cost effective in targeting priority front-line early years services, and invariably will relate to a number of budget periods. The Department will examine the costing implications for any recommendations arising from the Strategy and will identify how and when that investment will be required. Clearly this will require additional resources through the Comprehensive Spending Review process.

The Strategy will recognise that early intervention encompasses a wide range of issues and means identifying and addressing specific needs in a timely way. Those needs all contribute to the individual’s ability to grow and learn, to develop and fulfil his or her potential, and, vitally, to enjoy the very best start in life that every child deserves. The early years of a child’s life are critical for his or her future development and well-being. It is during those early months and years that a high percentage of a child’s learning takes place, attitudes are formed, first relationships are made, concepts are developed, and the foundation of all later skills and learning are laid.

There is much evidence to suggest that ability gaps open up early, long before formal schooling begins and that highest returns are on early interventions that set the stage for, and create the abilities needed for success in later life. As such we would like to see this section of the report re-visited to reflect the agreed purpose of the Early Years Strategy. Furthermore, the report should also make the policy linkages to the Review of Special Educational Needs currently underway in the Department which aims to develop a comprehensive early intervention and inclusive approach which recognises and delivers support for learning to those children who need it – when they need it.

The Department acknowledges however the need for the Early Years Strategy to be followed by an action/implementation plan highlighting SMART targets over the short, medium and longer terms and the need to monitor progress against the plan so that the longer term vision is realised.

  • the number of additional places to be provided within Sure Start during the period covered by the Programme for Government;
  • the additional support to be made available to help identify the additional educational and support needs of young children.

43. We recommend that OFMDFM and relevant departments and agencies, including, in particular, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Education, review and update legislation underpinning children’s services planning with a view to:

  • extending the duty to develop children and young people’s plans to at least include the Regional Health and Education Authorities;


The Health Minister’s recent announcements regarding the introduction of legislation to establish the new Regional Health and Social Care Board have committed the Department to reviewing and strengthening the arrangements for children’s services planning in Northern Ireland and giving consideration to new legislation if this is required.

Subsequently the Chief Social Services Officer has established a new work stream as part of the Reform Implementation Team- to bring forward proposals to deliver this commitment.

  • linking children’s services plans more directly with the outcomes of the Children’s Strategy, whilst retaining specific recognition in the legislation for children in need;

Recommendation 43.2 and 43.3

NISRA colleagues have been working closely with the Children’s Services Planners in the development of their 3 year action plan to ensure alignment with the 10 year Strategy for Children and Young People. The Northern Ireland Children’s Services Plan will be focused around the six outcomes set in the 10 Year Strategy and will have a similar set of indicators to those in the Strategy.

Representatives of the Children and Young People’s Committees also sit on the Strategy, Planning and Review group (SPRG) chaired by the Junior Ministers to ensure improved linkages.

The possibility of incorporation of duty to co-operate within relevant legislation is under consideration.

  • strengthen the legislation, or statutory guidance, so that relevant organisations are required to co-operate, rather than participate, in children’s service planning and delivery.

See 43.1


44. The Committee is of the view that:

(a) Further consideration should be given to how the process of Equality Impact Assessment could better inform policies in relation to their impact on groups at high risk of poverty; and


The Equality impact Assessment (EQIA) process already provides consideration of groups at high risk of poverty. The assessment of adverse impacts includes the potential to identify individuals at greater risk of poverty. Current legislation requires that public authorities give due regard to nine social categories.

Of these, one might argue that three may be at slightly higher risk of poverty, depending upon individual circumstances. These are:


Those with dependants (particularly children caring for an adult); and

Those with a disability.

Equality Impact Assessment of a new or amended policy in respect of age should take into account the impact of the policy throughout the age range including those at the lower age range (children) and upper age range (elderly). In doing so, the potential risk of poverty should be a consideration. It will depend of course on the policy being considered.

Similarly, those with caring responsibilities may be more prone to poverty than those without. In particular, where the parent / guardian may be cared for by a younger member of the family. These are issues which policy makers are currently aware of and should be capturing at both the Equality Screening and Equality Impact Assessment stages.

The same holds true for those with a disability. Where such a disability impacts upon ones ability to work or to find work, there may be an increased risk of poverty. This should also be captured through existing Equality Screening and EQIA processes (where relevant).

Whilst it may be helpful for the Equality Commission to emphasise the consideration of “risk of poverty” within its guidance material, we believe the four Equality Screening questions and 7-step EQIA process (see Annex attached) are sufficient in identifying the Committee’s concerns and compliance with the screening questions and EQIA process will be overseen by OFMDFM.

(b) The Anti-Poverty Unit in OFMDFM, with the support of the Department of Finance and Personnel, should have a role in challenging and reporting on whether key policies have taken adequate account of their impact on groups in poverty or at risk of poverty.


OFMDFM’s Guide to Policy Making includes specific reference to the need to take account of the impact of policy on those at greatest risk of poverty.

45. We recommend that OFMDFM should consider how to use the outcome of its work on Promoting Social Inclusion to improve understanding among policy makers and service providers of the groups which are most at risk of poverty and social exclusion and the steps that will have most impact in removing such groups from poverty and exclusion.


PSI is a key priority for Government and an integral part of any overarching strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion for marginalised groups in Northern Ireland.

In bringing forward proposals for the implementation of Lifetime Opportunities OFMDFM will take due cognisance of those Groups most marginalised and the policies and actions which can be most effective in helping to remove such groups from poverty and alleviate their exclusion from society.

OFMDFM officials are happy to engage with the Committee in developing this area of work.

46. We recommend that the key recommendations from the Promoting Social Inclusion reports are integrated into the planning and implementation processes for the Programme for Government and Lifetime Opportunities Strategy.


It is our intention that the recommendations from current and future PSI priorities are incorporated as specific actions and targets into the PfG and monitored through the mechanisms in place for Lifetime Opportunities.

47. We wish to encourage the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in consultation with the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development, to consider carefully how to utilise the funding package on rural poverty and social exclusion to maximise its impact on rural child poverty over the long-term.


The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has given careful consideration to the utilisation of the funding package and that it is being developed with an underlying principle of sustainability. The package will be made up of a number of programmes. These include the rural childcare programme which will look at not only provision of quality childcare places but also improving accessibility to childcare through supporting pilot or demonstration projects, which will help inform future policy or spending priorities. Other programmes that will contribute towards reducing rural child poverty include looking at rural transport issues, fuel poverty issues and use of community development to reduce social exclusion (which is an issue that can affect children too). The initial ideas have been presented to the ARD Committee and a finalised framework will be presented to the committee for comment in September. There has been ongoing liaison with other Government Departments such as DE, DSD and DRD as well as bodies such as NIHE. Consultation has also taken place with the farming unions with a view to developing a programme of measures that clearly meet poverty and social exclusion issues in rural areas, complement work undertaken by other government departments and that will have a long term impact on poverty and social exclusion , and in particular on alleviating rural child poverty.